The 2021/2022 Biathlon season goes into its final week after months of great competitions and incredibly successful Olympic Winter Games for some athletes. But as the end of the season grows closer, so does the end of several careers. In the last experts’ corner of this winter, Kaisa Makarainen reflects on the final week of her career and why retiring is so much more than just "quitting a job" for an athlete.
On Friday, March 13 2020, I was sitting at home on my couch with my personal ski coach of the last 13 years and we were having a big discussion: I had made my decision to retire, he thought I could still have some more good years. In the middle, I randomly opened my phone, went to Instagram, saw Martin’s post where he announced that he will quit – and then I started to cry so much because I knew I will make that same post the next morning before the last race of the season, of my career - at home in Kontiolahti.
I kind of made my mind up after the World Championships in Antholz 2020 but I really wanted to focus on the races. During the winter I only spoke to a few people about it – Mari Eder, my boyfriend (who was my wax tech). But I didn’t want to talk about quitting too much because I knew it would also make me emotional. Making the decision to retire is not an easy one. You’re not just quitting a job, you’re changing everything you know because being an athlete is a 24/7 job, life and passion …and it’s not always glory and podiums. Still, competing and pushing myself to the limit is something I always enjoyed – it kept me going and I knew I will “survive” the training in summer and autumn. But I also needed to know that during winter, I have a strong team with me. Coming from a “smaller” nation, having the right team around me was always an additional challenge but it always worked out until the end of my career.
I knew that finishing my career would make the news in Finland and I didn’t want so much media attention – but still, I wanted to have this “last race feeling” with the other girls I competed with, so that’s why I announced my retirement before the last pursuit and not later. Otherwise, I would have been on my own and I wanted to have this little celebration and these hugs after the finish line. In a way, I felt like it also gave me some freedom during my last race and finishing my career with a clean final standing shooting was really cool. When the decision is done and it feels right, you can perform without stress and take a lot from this – just look at Erik Lesser right now.
If you are thinking about retiring or continuing, ask yourself one question: “Why are you doing it?” So if you like training, the process, the work you do in summer and autumn - then why not continue? But there can also be other goals you have in life – those can also be really important: family, other passions and interests like with Laura Dahlmeier or Magdalena Neuner. Whatever the decision is, I always hope every athlete can make it on their own terms and not because of health issues or reasons outside of their control.
Enjoy the last week of World Cup competitions this winter and see you in Holmenkollen!